The conference of the Organization of News Ombudsmen has begun in Montreal.
At an opening reception last night, we heard words of welcome from two of the top managers from Radio-Canada and CBC, cosponsors of the conference.
Sylvain LaFrance from Radio-Canada is the VP of French services. He spoke about the importance of ombudsmen and the public broadcaster's commitment to the office.
Esther Enkin is the Executive Editor of CBC News. She spoke about how the CBC has, under her leadership, re-written and trained more than 1000 CBC journalists, bringing them up to date on how broadcast and online journalism must now be practiced. She has visited stations, used webinars and in consultation with the offices of the ombudsmen (English and French), done a thorough updating. The approach was - and is - impressive.
One question posed to her caught some of the dilemma of her situation. It came from Michael Getler, the ombudsman from PBS and former ombudsman and senior editor at the Washington Post.
Getler asked if management is also part of the training, or is the burden of ethical excellence entirely on the journalists?
I sensed she preferred not to answer that one. Instead she spoke about how the board of the CBC had given their approval for what she is doing, and while the occasional manager might sit in, there is no requirement for the top brass at the CBC to be part of this process.
This is a problem for Esther Enkin and the CBC.
Senior management may give their blessing to ethics training, but in a corporate culture of cuts to news budgets and more news on the cheap (aka crime reporting) in pursuit of a downmarket agenda, means that CBC may be ethically pure but still stuck doing the same mass market journalism practiced elsewhere.
And all the ethics training in Canada won't make the CBC a better public broadcaster until that changes.